‘So what’s happening with private equity optometry on your side of the pond?’ an American optometrist asked me over lunch at the Transitions Academy conference in Orlando last week.

Luckily, there wasn’t enough time for the long answer, but my quick version went something like this: ‘Groups hoovering up independents. Groups buying groups. Groups trying to vertically integrate with labs. Independents falling by the wayside after trying to compete with each other.’

It was a bleak summary, but one that the veteran optometrist recognised, with the expansion of companies like MyEyeDr in the US, which has been acquiring practices and groups since 2001. MyEyeDr was purchased by Goldman Sachs in 2019 for an estimated $2.7bn and the rate of expansion with its ‘affiliate independents’ has only increased.

It raises the question whether private equity investment is a good or bad thing for independent optometry? For me, the notion of an ‘affiliate independent’ doesn’t work. It’s a contradiction in terms – one part attached to an organisation and the other free from outside control.

The long term effects of private equity investment on young practitioners at the beginning of their careers is yet to be seen, but we already know that independent practices are selling to private equity firms because it’s often too difficult for younger practice staff to raise the capital to succeed existing owners. Difficult, but not impossible – as Optician will cover later in the summer.

There has never been a more opportune time to be an independent optometrist. With standardised care and service now so common on the high street, it doesn’t take much to be different from the rest and provide something of real value. Making a patient’s experience of your practice memorable, meaningful and magical, is something all independents can do, no matter how much money is in the bank.